Tag Archives: Exams

Yesterday Threw Everything At Me

I had kind of a crazy day yesterday.

It started with an exam in Quantum Field Theory. Painful, but I think it didn’t go too badly. Had a bite to eat, then it was straight into some last minute revision on the Queen’s Lawn for the second exam of the day in Optical Communications Physics, which was actually sort of pleasant, in a slightly strange way. Less like the hideous mental assault which constituted my other exams, anyway.

To celebrate, Rowan, Susan and I took a trip to our customary haunt — Nando’s — and proceded to consume chicken. It was delightful.

After that, I decided to take a trip into central London to grab some comics at Forbidden Planet, and as I was strolling up Monmouth Street I walked past none other than Neil Gaiman, award-winning fantasy writer and graphic novelist. By the time I’d realised it was him he’d already walked past me and gone round the corner. It took me a few more hours to realise that I was in fact carrying in my bag a copy of his “Sandman” graphic novel “Dream Country”, and that asking him to autograph it would have been incredible. I later found out via the wonder of Twitter that he would have signed it if I’d asked. Never mind!

So yeh, went to Forbidden Planet, grabbed a new Buffy comic and a Penny Arcade book, and went and sat down on a wall just up Shaftesbury Avenue and read my purchases for a while, and watched the world go by. I don’t spend nearly enough time in central London, which is a shame because I love it dearly; it’s so full of life and bustle and remarkable buildings and architecture and it goes on and on in all directions.

Rather than go home, I decided to take a bit of a walkabout. I set off east towards Holborn, passing whichever way took my fancy.

The first thing I discovered was what looked to be the entrance to an underground tramway.

A disused and gated tramway under the streets of London

I wonder how long it’s been since it was used, and where the other end of it surfaces, if it still has another end.

I wandered over to where a section of street had been blocked off by Crossrail signs. This old building, a sign on which read “The Ivy House” was abandoned, encircled by signs exhorting me to visit the site office. The building across the street bore the likeness of, and a dedication to, John Bunyan. It too looked decayed and abandoned; I turned the corner into a desolate alley, and leaned to look through some railings; through them smelt of damp and decay.

The building was apparently called “Kingsgate House”, and despite appearing to be derelict, somebody still seems to be in habitation, judging by the light and the open window.

It appears that I’m not the only one to find this building interesting.

Places like this fill me with wonder, make me think about their history, why they were built, and how they fell on hard times. I wonder if Crossrail is doing any good to this little microcosm of Holborn at the moment; I must confess that apart from the Astoria, I’d never really considered the impact the building of Crossrail would have.

I turned north, and found that Warner Brothers keeps replicas of the Hogwarts house insignia in the Foyer of their offices.

From there I wandered into a residential district, near Great Ormond Street hospital. Houses draped with the flag of St. George, people in bars, drinking and chatting, the beautiful chattering sound of people enjoying themselves wafting over the streets. I walked down an alleyway that passed through a building, joining the street through a crack in the facade of a shop. Behind this was tucked a little house, sounds of a party coming from inside.

It was getting late, so I headed in the direction of Russell Square tube station, marvelling at water fountains, and a house draped in lights for some unfathomable reason. I came across a park called Coram’s Fields. The sign above the gate read “No Unaccompanied Adults”. I thought this was marvellous.

Paradoxical Freedom

The odd thing about suddenly finding oneself a man of leisure is now that the exams are over is that it rather takes the fire out of things.

When you have a day-to-day purpose, it gives a underlying meaning to which you can anchor the structure and events of your life. Remove that purpose, that skeleton, or holding-pin, and everything else is suddenly adrift. It’s pretty unnerving, all in all. Another way of saying the same thing is that procrastination seems a lot more fun when you have something to be procrastinating from.

Sartre had a pretty good grasp of this phenomenon, all in all. His point was that life is always unanchored, but we like to pretend that it isn’t. He called that “mauvais foi”, or “bad faith”. Honestly, I haven’t read any Sartre for ages because my copy of Nausea is… elsewhere, and Being and Nothingness is trapped in book backlog hell. He’s probably still my favourite, though.

Anyways, exams are over, which means suddenly I have to figure out what to do with my time all by myself. So far, that’s mostly meant staying in bed stupidly late, which is frankly just crap.

I have though had plenty of good times with friends, including a barbeque, drinks in Kensington Gardens, a Champagne and Suit/Dress party, and a trip to the Tate Modern (see http://facebook.com/asimpson for pictures). With any luck there will be more such happy occasions soon.

Guess I don’t actually have a lot to say about stuff right now. This is one of the more fundamental issues with Twitter – it acts rather like a release valve, letting go some of the pressure that would otherwise build up into a blog post. Ah well.

Plans:

  • Have more good times.
  • Play videogames.
  • Read books.
  • See bits of London I haven’t seen yet (like Marx’s grave)

Weariness

So I’m roughly half-way through the exam season, five down, four to go.

Some of them have gone well, others not so well, others were going well until I found myself running out of time, started panicing and ignored the obvious answer…

Anyways, all in all, it’s been pretty miserable so far, and it really doesn’t do wonders for morale. I really just want this to be over, because this whole experience is just making me feel like crap, and I’m pretty damned sick of it.

Right now, I’m supposed to be revising Plasma Physics, because the exam’s tomorrow and for the life of me I have no idea what he’s doing using the Bennett relation to derive the Pease-Braginskii current, and I really need this exam to go well. For a whole bunch of reasons.

At least there’s only 4 left! Plasma I think is generally going to go well, then on Friday there’s Comprehensive II, the sequel to the exam that made us all want to commit suicide the first time around, Dynamical Systems & Chaos on Tuesday, which could be pretty unpleasant, and then Foundations of Quantum Mechanics on Thursday which I think will be pretty good too, so should form a pleasant wind-down. Hopefully.

I’m really not looking forward to results day.

Anyways, back to the physics of the Z-pinch…

The Last Month (in 30 Minutes)

Right, so I’ve not blogged for a while. The last post I’ve made was the 18th of December, which was the day before the end of term. So, what have I been doing since then? Oh, and I’m trying to do it in less than half an hour, because that’s how long I have until my washing needs drying.

The next day was spent mostly trying to hurry and get my computing project ready to hand in, which kinda necessitated missing a few lectures, but never mind. Then, once that was all done, the Physics crew met up in the common room to exchange Secret Santa gifts. I think we were all pleasantly surprised at the quality of the presents we’d got each other. Emily in particular was very happy with her present, which was a book about 101 things an old-fashioned housewife could do.

Went home, and the house did Secret Santa, which was also great fun, although exactly what some of those gifts were eludes me slightly.

Then we had a few drinks, people came over, had a few more drinks, then headed down to the Union for the Christmas ball. In hindsight, going to the Union might not have been the best plan, but heck, it wasn’t too bad. Bloody freezing walking back, though.

The next day I got the train back home – only £3.30, which completely didn’t suck.

Pretty much as soon as I got back, got a lift from Beccy’s dad to head down to Shell’s place in Bromsgrove, and we had drinks and takeaway with friends, and that was all pretty good.

Did the usual home-stuff after that, hanging around the house, sleeping, reading, playing games, visiting family, etc.

Met up with friends once more (although a slightly different set of friends) in a pub, and that was pretty great too.

Finished Mirror’s Edge in a single day, and played a lot of the drums in Rock Band. Watched the Dark Knight on Blu-Ray. It’s so high-def it’s almost painful to watch. Awesome.

Christmas rolled round, presents got opened. Didn’t get anything spectacular, but it was all nice and good. My Nan came over for Christmas dinner, and we played Trivial Pursuit as a family. I won, because I’m awesome.

Few days later, I rang in the New Year playing Rock Band with my Mom and sister. My mother is honestly terrible on the drums, even on easy mode. It was fun, anyway.

Then on the 2nd of January, I got on a train back to London. Got a £17.50 first-class ticket back, so there was coffee and sandwiches available for free, which was nice. Being asked if you want tea or coffee before you can even sit down is pretty nice indeed.

House was freezing, so I borrowed Matt’s heater, otherwise I would have frozen to death, and I bought my own from Argos ASAP.

Then in theory spent time revising for the Computational Physics test, in practice I spent rather too much time playing Fallout 3.

Anyways, the test did eventually roll round, with more and more people coming back into the house as it came closer to term-time. I was as prepared as I could have been, but I think I made some pretty silly mistakes in the exam. Never mind.

Then for the rest of this week have been general introductory lectures. Other people are stressing about philosophy and politics essays, or lab reports, etc. etc. but I’ve mostly just kinda been chilling, watching TV, playing Left 4 Dead.

That’s pretty much everything, more or less. I mean, there’s a lot omitted, but you don’t need to know every detail, you anonymous internet people. Heck, this is already probably too much!

Anyways, hopefully I should be able to keep to posting more regular-like in the future. I’ve recently finished reading Y: The Last Man, so I might write something about that, and I’m planning to have a crack at The Communist Manifesto in the near future.

Now the exams have let up a little…

Finally getting on top of things. I only have one more exam, Applications of Quantum mechanics and Electrons in Solids on Thursday morning, then I’m free, free like a bird! So far I think the exams have gone pretty well, but we’ll see how things stack up in the summer!

The Steven Moffat-penned Doctor Who two-parter was as good as his previous work would suggest i.e. excellent, so I’m really happy with the fact he’s going to be in charge of the show for series 5. Shame that won’t be until the year after next! I do wonder what he has lined up for River Song in future – the fact that she’s a character the Doctor will know in his own personal future suggests we’ll see her again down the line.

I recently picked up Buffy Season 8 #15, and it’s possibly one of the best issues yet! Mecha-Dawn vs. Giant Dawn on the streets of Tokyo; can you really ask for more?

I also picked up (at the same time, oddly enough) Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky, the latter of which has a sequel, Iron Sunrise, that I’ve already read, courtesy of my sister buying it for me as a birthday present. So far I’m really enjoying both of them – the best sci fi doesn’t just have character and plot, it has wonderful ideas around which those plots and characters can wind until you have a rich world that at once is both fantastic and believable.

Snow Crash follows the fantastically named Hiro Protagonist: hacker, sword-fighter, pizza delivery boy, in a wonderfully neo-corporate future where a computer technology called the Metaverse allows you to walk around in a virtual-reality version of the Internet. I can’t quite believe it was written in 1992, as some of the ideas contained within are actually starting to come true in parts. The technological vision in here seems like an inspired extrapolation in the Internet-saturated world of today; from 1992, it’s visionary. This is of course one of the other functions of science fiction – to serve as a technological prophet of things to come.

Singularity Sky is different again – set in a future where a hyper-intelligent AI, the Eschaton, has bootstrapped itself into sentience on the Internet, and then distributed humanity across 3000 light-years of space, sending them back in time one year for each light year out, so the civilisations at the edge are 3000 years older than those in the centre. One of the most brilliant things is that real physical ideas are found in abundance – faster than light travel exists, but it’s also a means of time-travel, as such a thing would also be in the real world. Relativity is a fact, not something ignored as too complex to include.

However time travel is not unrestricted; any attempts to violate causality (the principle that events must occur after whatever causes them) are thwarted by the intervention of the Eschaton, which preserves causality for its own ends. This is just the thin end of the idea-wedge in here! The others include mediations on a post-scarcity society, and further ideas on post-human intelligences. Great stuff.

In a public service announcement, you can hear the whole new Coldplay album here: http://www.myspace.com/387267497 Alas, you have to sign up for that insidious hive, MySpace. I’m not sure what I think right now – it’s certainly growing on me, and some songs on here are instant classics, like Lost, and Violet Hill.

Right now I’m also trying to work out what I’m going to do with my time over the summer. I have a handful of ideas, including giving this site the overhaul it’s needed for a while now, and possibly figuring out some way of skewing a satellite map of London so that it matches the distortion of the Tube map. And possibly a good way of managing music. I’m not sure yet…

I’ll leave you with one of the works of the excellent Team Roomba. Best keep your volume turned down…


TF2 Karaoke: Bohemian Rhapsody from FLOOR MASTER on Vimeo

Musings on Science, and other things

I’m in the library, revising for my electromagnetism exam by reading some of the Feynman lectures on physics. He presents the material in a clear, accessible, and interesting way, and it’s a real joy to read. He also goes off on some great tangents to relate the basic material to more complex unsolved problems in Physics, and it’s really, really interesting. He addresses all the issues you have as an undergraduate – should I have a mental model of what’s going on, is this treatment accurate, and provides tips and tricks for solving various problems.

This got me to thinking in general of how easy it is for your enthusiasm for something to be crushed by the process of actually having to study it – sometimes you read about things the great scientists of the past discovered and you wonder how they could bring themselves to work on anything quite so dull!

Makes me wonder if perhaps we get our knowledge too easy; the things which were the life’s work of some of our greatest minds, taught in a lazy afternoon.

Obliquely, this led me on to thinking about Lost. I’ve just seen the 4th season finale, so it’s on my mind, but I’m going to avoid spoilers here! I realised they’d got their characterisations of the characters completely and utterly wrong!

Jack is the man of faith, and Locke is the man of science! Jack believes so thoroughly in “reason” that he totally ignores the things he can see with his own two eyes – like giant columns of black smoke that can kill people. Locke has the use of his legs restored, and immediately comes to the conclusion that something awfully odd is going on. Locke’s attitude is clearly the more scientific. The writers obviously have no idea what they’re talking about.

This could be just because I’m feeling a tad hostile towards them right now – anyone who’s seen the finale can probably guess why!